The pre-adoption birth certificate

ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED

lesgreen.wwii
Less than a year later…
The state of New York lied to me. When I ordered my father’s pre-adoption birth certificate in March 2020, they told me it would take 15 months. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. I figured that the deadline would be shot to heck and that September 2021 was a more likely delivery date.

I was right about September, but wrong about the year. On September 4, 2020, I received what I’d been seeking from the state Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

On the birth record was a stamp: This is not the current birth certificate on file.” It indicated that Leslie Harold Walker was “Known as Leslie Harold Green.” Father was listed as O.W. (out of wedlock), as I suspected. Mother was Agatha Walker, colored, born in Pennsylvania, who worked as a domestic. Les Green, of course, was my father.

More intriguing was the process by which McKinley Melvin Green adopted Leslie in September 1944, only a couple of weeks shy of Les’ 18th birthday. The report was quite a bit of legalese, with a dearth of periods. “Said parties having severally and personally appeared before me.” And “an investigation into the allegations of the petitioned proposed adoption being made by… the Department of Child Placing, Broome County Welfare.”

A good idea

Still no full stop. “It duly appearing that the moral and temporal interests of the said child, Leslie H. Walker, will be promoted by said adoption… The said McKinley M. Green is in all respects fit and proper person to adopt said child… The said McKinley M. Green has duly agreed to adopt said child and to make him his own lawful child…”

It goes on. “It further appearing that the said child, Leslie H. Walker, and the mother of said child, Agatha H. Walker, have duly consented in writing to such adoption.” Wait, there’s more. “And to a proposed change of the name of said child to Leslie H. Green….” It gets all “ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED.”

This is fascinating to me. McKinley and Agatha were married in 1931. But by 1936, they were no longer living together. In the 1940 Census, when Mckinley was residing in a boarding house, Agatha and Les were staying at Agatha’s parents’ house. But they were both listed as Green, or actually misspelled as Greene. In a 1942 photo in a Binghamton newspaper, Leslie Green was one of the Boy Scouts and McKinley one of the fathers.

After I was was about a year old, McKinley and Agatha lived on the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, while Les and his wife Trudy and I lived downstairs, along with my future sisters.

Also interesting to me is the fact that the change form for the adoption indicates Leslie H. Walker as an “infant” on September 13, 1944. He was 17 years and 50 weeks old at the time. What would the procedure have been if it had gone through two weeks later?

“Partly truth and partly fiction”

complicated

Les.Roger.backporch2
Les and Roger Green, 1953
The more I learn about my late father Les Green, the more I want to know. “He’s a walking contradiction. Partly truth and partly fiction” is a line from a Kris Kristofferson song. His life was very complicated.

Did he know that the Reverend Raymond Cone was his biological father? Surely, the pastor was not in dad’s life. What kind of teasing did he have to endure?

Or was his lineage hidden from most people? In the 1930 Census, when he was three and a half, he was listed as the son, rather than the grandson, of Samuel and Eugenia Walker. And he was mistakenly listed as Wesley Walker, an error that wasted some research time and money by my sisters and me.

Agatha Walker and McKinley Green were married in April 1931. How and when did they meet? And why were they separated for the latter half of the 1930s? According to the 1940 Census, Agatha Greene and Leslie Greene – the surnames were misspelled – were back with Samuel and Mary.

There is a picture of a group of Boy Scouts and their dads in a 1942 Binghamton newspaper. Les and McKinley are included in the group. But it wasn’t until 1944 when Les was 18, he got a new birth certificate, with McKinley listed as the father. It notes McKinley’s age in 1944, rather than in Les’ birth year of 1926. But Agatha’s age is properly 24, her age when Les was born.

Race matters

I’ve mentioned my father’s ambivalence about serving in post-war Germany. It was due to the racism, not of the German people but of the white GIs. He also experienced colorism from his future in-laws, the Yates, since he was much darker than they were.

If he was a bit of a standoffish father early on, could it have been a result of the miscarriage my mother experienced in April 1951? It would have been a boy. Maybe it’s why he made sure that I was named for no one else. Yet he named his first daughter after himself.

He may have been the most gregarious person I’ve known in a public setting. Yet, sometimes at home, he was dubbed by my sisters and me, as the “black cloud” who seemed to suck the oxygen out of the room. This was true mostly when we were growing up, but we experienced it as late as 1997.

Some people are who they are almost all of the time. I think our mom was like that. Then there was our dad, who was…complicated. We wish we could ask him questions about all of these things. But the items about his youth, for instance, we really didn’t understand until he passed.

Les Green would have been 94 tomorrow.

To My White Friends Who Know Me

The Anti-Racism Task Force

Deborah L. Plummer posted To My White Friends Who Know Me on Medium. I related to it a lot, although I intentionally forged a different path.

She is self-described as a “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging professional.” I tried to consciously avoided roles such as being an affirmative action officer. It’s not because I thought it was unimportant. My father served that function, among others, as a vice-president of J.A. Jones Construction in Charlotte, NC. And he was involved in civil rights starting back in his days in Binghamton, NY. Still, I found that some people, mostly white, but a few black folks as well, thought that such positions reeked of tokenism.

This is why we are having a moment in America. As Plummer noted: “I have a lot of White friends. Obviously, they have always known that I am Black. The amount of melanin in my skin hasn’t changed… They have claimed me as their Black friend.

“Yet, during this time of aggressive push for racial equity, most of my White friends are now just seeing and experiencing me as a Black person. Having witnessed a startling, violent 8 minutes and 46 seconds of video, they now see me and other Blacks as the recipients of systemic racism. They understand that the murder of George Floyd represents the weight of how Blacks in the United States have been treated for decades, and they struggle not to see themselves as participants in anything vicariously related to what Derek Chauvin did.

They try to be supportive

“My White friends are now on an emotional roller coaster as they read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. They are making personal racial equity to-do lists and signing up for accountability partners after reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist…” I feel the need to keep up myself!

“They know, acknowledge, and make no excuses for the fact that Trump is racist and are genuinely horrified by his long history of racism.” (Finally!) “They know that race is strongly correlated with voting preferences and that the vast majority of Trump supporters are White. They are afraid of the disparate impact on me and other BIPOC if Trump is reelected and are actively working to prevent that from happening.”

This is especially true. “My White friends are apologizing to me for things they said, might have said, or could have possibly said that did, could have, or might have smacked of racism. They are doing mental rewinds of situations where they showed me support.” Yes, some of that. “And writing mini memoirs sent to me in emails as proof that they really are and have been antiracist pre-George Floyd. Some of their stories I vividly remember, and some stories I do not recall at all.” Yup.

Time has come today

Perhaps I didn’t talk enough about race to my white friends prior to the end of May 2020. I hadn’t avoided the issue. Maybe Probably I thought they just wouldn’t understand. Perhaps I underestimated them. Or, quite likely, circumstances have allowed a conversation where I didn’t see an opening previously.

Even things I wrote about before, like Tulsa in 1921, which I wrote about in 2016, seem to have a new resonance. Before it was, “Oh, that a terrible thing,” but a singular event. Now it’s seen as part of a systemic flaw in the country. There is a line that runs from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, which I discussed in 2014, BTW.

At church, I have been involved in Black History Month events for over a decade. (Some people say I’m in charge of it, but I vigorously deny it.) The Anti-Racism Task Force, of which I am NOT a member, has been running adult education at church, via Zoom, all summer, and will continue to do so once a month going forth.

This reminds me of a story, but that’ll have to be for another time.

Death, The New Normal. 20 years after dad.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Les Green.tree sweaterWading through old email earlier this year, I found this piece that Parker J. Palmer called Death, The New Normal. It’s fairly short.

“If emotional honesty is part of living well — which surely it is — then shaking my fist at death is just as important as accepting it. If that’s unenlightened, so be it! At least I have the good company of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“I discovered her ‘Dirge Without Music’ when my father died nearly twenty years ago. I found a curious peace in the poet’s refusal to accept the inevitable, and I find it again today.”

As it turns out, it’s been twenty years since my father died. And I remember it all, astonishingly well. Hearing, in Albany, that my father was in the hospital. The news on a Thursday that my father had a stroke. My wife and I staying in his hospital room in Charlotte the following Monday night. The levity between my father and my baby sister on Tuesday morning.

The rapid decline he had undergone between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening, when the doctor said he would die within the week. Starting to write the obituary on Thursday morning, only to get the news that he was dying. And my sisters had both vehicles. Me waking the next-door neighbor who worked nights, and who I did not know, to get him to drive my mother and me to the hospital. My wife staying back to watch niece Alex. Mom and I arriving after he had died.

The lengthy funeral negotiations on Friday. The funeral on Sunday. The burial at a military cemetery 40 miles away on Monday, and deciding that taking the limo made sense. A bunch of aftermath stuff.

Poem

Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

(Excerpted from Collected Poems. Read the full poem here.)

Dear old dad in Newspapers.com

the Ongleys

When I was on my genealogical journey for my father’s biological male parent, I got a subscription to Newspapers.com. You know, memory is a peculiar thing. I took a deep dive into the records that mentioned Les Green. There were over 300 items in the Binghamton, NY newspapers, most before 1974.

The earliest may have a picture of Les and his stepfather McKinley in 1942 with other Boy Scouts and their dads. I discovered that he was involved in the 1960s as a leader in scouting at the Interracial Center on 45 Carroll Street. Yet in my brief tenure as a Cub Scout, I never got the sense that dad was interested in scouting at all.

I remember that my father was the production chairman of the Civic Theater, the community performance troupe. Specifically, I recall his involvement with the 1960 production of Guys and Dolls, which was very successful. Even then, I thought the show, starting with the title, was rather old-fashioned. (Sidebar: my wife saw Bob Hoskins perform as Nathan Detroit in London in the early 1980s, so she’s more favorably inclined.)

The previous Civic Theater production was Separate Tables by Terrence Rattigan. What I didn’t know was that Helen Foley, speech and drama instructor at Binghamton Central HS was the director. She was my public speaking teacher a decade later, but neither my father nor la Foley ever mentioned to me that they knew each other. Helen Foley, BTW, was also the favorite teacher of Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, back in the early 1940s.

BTW, the costumes for Separate Tables were done by my grandmother Agatha and “Mrs. George Ongley.” George Ongley was Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. My family visited their family for a time at the Ongley home in suburban Vestal. They had a couple kids if I’m remembering correctly.

Fighting for justice

Unsurprisingly, most of the clippings in the papers of dad were of him singing and playing the guitar. I knew my father performed at the Binghamton State Hospital, the “first institution designed and constructed to treat alcoholism as a mental disorder in the United States,” several times. But I didn’t know he was President of the hospital’s volunteer council c. November 1963. I wonder why he was so invested in that institution.

He was involved in a variety of civil rights organizations, such as the William L. Moore chapter of CORE. Once, his white colleagues sent me into the local Woolworth’s to see if I, like other black kids, would be harassed by the employees or the police. I was not on that day.

Dad headed the Binghamton-Broome Council of the NYS Division of Human Rights head by 1969. Interestingly, the formation of this body was rejected by the Binghamton city council five years earlier. That action generated a third of a page petition in the paper. “There is not a single day when a Negro does not suffer the indignity… of discrimination” in the city. It was signed by my mother, father, and McKinley, as well as over 230 other adults, many of whom I knew.

My father was Chair of the Human Rights Advisory Council in 1972. Yet I did not recall that he claimed that he was denied entrance to a public billiards parlor in Binghamton because of his race in July 1968, taking his complaint to the state Division of Human Rights in September of that year. I don’t know what the resolution of the case was.

Finally, he was Director for Joint Apprenticeship and Training for the Associated Building Contractors in August 1972. When he lost that position, he ended up moving to Charlotte, NC in 1974. Les Green was rather remarkable when I was growing up. Happy Father’s Day.